For many young adults, the lack of a high school diploma and employable skills creates a brick wall to finding a sustaining-wage job. For those in this situation in Allentown, Pennsylvania, YouthBuild can provide the tools they need to build a brighter future.
“I wasn’t going down the right road in life and I somehow thought drugs would get me a better life,” said Joshua, a YouthBuild student graduating this winter. While serving a two-year prison sentence, he had a lot of time to think about what he needed to do to change his circumstances and become a better person. YouthBuild was his first stop after his release in early 2018.
YouthBuild is a program of the non-profit affordable housing developer Housing Association and Development Corporation (HADC) and a recipient of community grants from BB&T and the BB&T Economic Growth Fund at the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation. The six-month, four-day-a-week program helps those between 17 and 24 years of age, who left school without graduating and want to make a positive change in their lives.
“I initially went to complete my GED, but now I’ve also earned my OSHA and CPR certifications,” he said. “With my education and new skills, I now have a job in construction. A few years ago, I never would have envisioned that for myself, and I didn’t believe I would have this type of opportunity fresh out of prison. But this program helped me stabilize my life, and its helping me to grow as a person.”
YouthBuild includes GED instruction from the Lehigh Carbon Community College, certificate programs at the Lehigh Career and Technical Institute and on-the-job training at HADC project sites, which include rundown, vacant properties in center city Allentown. Students spend part of the week working on site and the rest preparing for their GED and learning leadership and job skills.
The on-the-job training involves the complete gutting and reconstruction of blighted houses just a few blocks from HADC’s offices. Once the renovation is complete, HADC sells the house to eligible low- to moderate-income families.
Students work alongside case managers who help them review their week, talk through any problems and learn life skills like opening checking accounts and developing a budget. YouthBuild instructors and case managers form a team to guide the students as they work to achieve their goals.
“Without the staff and instructors, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have today,” Joshua said. “They care for you like family and do whatever it takes to help you get over the hurdles. They were my support system on day one and they still are to this day.”
In addition to trade and life skills, one of the program’s objectives is to help students develop a strong work ethic and understand what it means to be a responsible employee. “We want our students to learn what that kind of commitment looks like so they become the type of employees that area businesses want to hire and develop,” said Lauren Giguere, HADC director of YouthBuild and Resource Development.
“There are so many wins that come from YouthBuild, which is why BB&T is proud to support the program,” said David Grow, BB&T CRA/Community Development specialist. “Students are able to complete their education, receive hands-on training and boost their future employment prospects. And by applying their new construction skills, they’re creating safe, attractive homes for deserving families, which lifts up the entire neighborhood.”
Students are eligible to receive a weekly living allowance for their work and participation in the program, but many students also work part-time. Participation requires commitment and determination, but according to Joshua, the results are well worth the effort.
“When you believe in yourself and have others who believe in you, you can be successful in the future, no matter what’s in your past,” he said. “I know I’ll have my own HVAC business someday, because this program gave me the confidence to dream big. And when you have confidence in yourself, I believe you can accomplish just about anything.”